March 19th, 2012

#SXSWi 2012: The Five Major Themes

I keep getting asked about the one coolest thing I learned about at SXSW. The problem is: I didn’t walk away with one cool thing that I can hold up as THE find of SXSW 2012. Instead, I heard several themes woven throughout the many, many sessions I attended over the five day conference that we can apply to our clients’ digital presences and make us all better communicators with more engaging content in those digital spaces. Here are the five major themes that I heard:

Theme #1: Content and/or Content Curation

Brands and agencies are looking more like publishers every day. This is because in digital spaces, we need to pull consumers to our messages rather than pushing our messages out as we can with the more traditional media channels. We need to generate content or be excellent content curators to give our consumers a reason to engage with us in those digital spaces.

Theme #2: Storytelling

Stories can be told with words, photography, video or data. And they can be told and shared across many different channels, giving the audience a different way of experiencing and engaging with the stories. Narrative is what helps people remember the message. Narrative gives them an opportunity to experience a product or service before they buy. As we are crafting our narratives and writing our stories, we need to also think about how these can be shared across a variety of platforms; we should create in a way that is super flexible so that the content can be molded to go anywhere.

Theme #3: Discovery, Exploration, Customization

Given the amount of data that we are sharing with our mobile apps, our social networks and our web browsing, these services can now start customizing the content they share with us, making relevant recommendations based on our profiles, habits and location. Google+ is socially annotating our search results with friends’ activities and recommendations and garnering an uptick in click-through rates of 5-10% as a result. Foursquare is making recommendations for places we should visit based on our check-in histories and where we are standing at that moment. New location apps are popping up left and right to connect us with people with similar interests that are nearby, to inform us about locations that are nearby or to help us control our environments with approach to geo-fenced locations. It is fascinating and only serves to improve our experiences, save us time and help us find things we might not otherwise have discovered.

Theme #4: Using the Right Tools

No, you should not use Pinterest just because it is the latest, greatest social media tool out there. It seems like obvious that communicators should be (1) setting objectives for digital and social, (2) then measuring all decisions and messages up against those objectives before releasing tactics into the marketplace, (3) considering who the target audience is and where they tend to congregate, and (4) looking carefully at the competition and setting out to do something different. However, with as much conversation as there was around this topic and these steps, it is instead obvious that many communicators are not following this process and instead jumping into channels with little thought, other than just to be there to be there.

Theme #5: Observation

One presenter put it this way: “Look at what others are doing and riff off what they are doing well.” Another panelist described creativity as being made of three elements: copying, transforming, and/or combining what has already been created. Both get to the same point: nothing is new, but we can make it better and differentiate. Pay attention to what is happening around you in the digital spaces and learn from it.

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